Betsey Norland’s semi-autobiographical novel, “Intermission: A First Mother’s Story,” opens with a scene set in October, 1960, before the widespread use of birth control pills, the advent of single parent families, or the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case.
To tell you the truth, I felt really stupid that night. I was barely three months along, not showing at all. It was way too early to be hiding myself away. My mother had to leave work early that afternoon to drive me, so she was in a worse mood than usual when she picked me up in front of my college dorm.
. . . My mother lit a fresh Chesterfield from the end of the one she had going, then ground out the butt in the Ford’s ashtray. I cracked open the window, hoping some fresh air would ease my nausea. She reached over and turned down her Mozart on the car radio, her signal to listen up.
“You haven’t mentioned this to anybody, have you?”
. . . I could tell she was watching me anxiously. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of making eye contact, though.
“Well, don’t,” my mother said, releasing a lungful of smoke. “Don’t tell anybody! You’ll be glad later on.”
I don’t know who she thought I was going to tell. I’d only been a college student for a couple of months. “Hi, I’m Holly. I’m pregnant. Nice to meet you.” Not exactly the way I would have chosen to stand out from the crowd of theater students at Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts.
Actually this whole thing had really put a crimp in my style. I was finally on my way to becoming an actress and a dancer. And I haven’t given up on it yet, by the way. Oh, I’m not so shallow or naive to imagine myself in Hollywood or anything. I don’t care if I’m in the back row of the chorus, as long as it’s live theater, musicals — Broadway I hope, or as close as I can get to it. My mother always said I could dance before I could walk, and sure enough, that’s one thing about me she got right. Dance is what I was born to do. I had my first professional job when I was fifteen. Principal dancer in a summer stock company. I can really make it. I absolutely know I can make it. And winning a scholarship to study at BU was supposed to be the first step. Only I got myself knocked up.
* * *
“There are few conditions less attractive than self-pity,” my mother’s voice whispered in my head.
Her first response to my bombshell, naturally, was to rat on me to my dad. But he was no help. As usual. Word came back that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, find any doctor willing to risk his career by giving me an abortion. And there was no way I was going to gamble on some back room butcher. I’d heard way too many horror stories about that.
My second alternative got crossed off the list pretty quickly, too. My mother had already made me break up with Raymond. He’s Roman Catholic, see. How do you think I got pregnant in the first place? He said he’d marry me, but my mother couldn’t stand the idea of me marrying someone Catholic, even under the circumstances. She said we should wait until after the baby was born and then see whether we still wanted to get married. Well, why would two teenage kids want to get married if they didn’t have to? Especially when one of them is definitely headed for Broadway?
So that was the end of that as far as she was concerned . . . That’s why we were checking out the place so early — to see whether the Crittenton-Hastings Home for Unwed Mothers was a viable alternative.
I figured she just needed to be sure I was out of sight in time. Before I began to Show. That’s why she was ready to yank me out of school, to make sure that I came up with an appropriate lie, a cover story that she approved of, whether anybody else thought it made sense or not.
“Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone,” my mother had warned me over and over again. “I’ve decided you should say you are leaving to be with your Father,” she informed me.
“What are you talking about!? Why?”
“Because it’s the truth. Wherever you go, you’ll be with God.”
I knew then I was in really big trouble. There was nothing more important to her than what God thought about all this, even if she was using His name to disguise a lie. I mean how was I supposed to get anybody to believe that I would give up this great opportunity to study at a professional dance performance school to be with my father? I had won the entrance audition. I had won a scholarship.
But frankly, I couldn’t think of anything better myself. This was one instance when even I could see that telling the truth might not be such a good idea. If the university knew the real reason, they might be less willing to defer my scholarship for a year. So I figured I’d let her deal with the registrar and my housemother when the time came. Maybe they’d think my father had cancer or something and there was no one in the world to take care of him except his devoted daughter.
Still, that left the problem of where I was supposed to go. It was really crowded in my mother’s apartment. She was in the embarrassing position of having rented out my room to students from the small, private college in our neighborhood as soon as I was settled into my college dorm. But even if my room had been available, there was the problem of my kid brother.
“You certainly don’t want him to find out!” my mother insisted. I had to agree. An almost eleven-year-old kid shouldn’t have to be embarrassed in front of his friends because his unmarried seventeen-year-old sister is going to have a baby.
So that left Crittenton.
Betsey Norland’s book is available in paperback at Wren House Books, www.wrenhousebooks.com, or in an electronic version at www.amazon.com.